"To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you lived. This is to have succeeded." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Story of My Stuff: Confessions of a Closet Hoarder

I just paused my teaching career of 13 years to write a novel and try "tiny living". In order to follow my dream, I had to move out of my 1300 square-foot home with garage and plenty of storage into a 400 square foot cabin with my boyfriend and my cat. Before my move, I had a large, plush sectional couch with ample pillows. My walls were covered with paintings. I had 3 sets of china, about 1,000 books, athletic gear galore, and an art studio. I had candles, knitting needles and yarn (I don't knit), vases and traces of the past six years I lived in my Missoula abode. As I went through the boxes, the shelves, the drawers, and the cupboards (and the garage, the closets, etc.) I had to ask myself a question: what do I really need? It was a dilemma for me! That box of journals from 4th grade on? I need it. That knitting bag I will never use? I need it. Those teapots my mom gave me because she wanted to de-clutter? I need them! In the end, I gave most of that stuff away to the YWCA and friends. I put signs outside my house saying, "FREE". I gifted my 7 year-old downstairs neighbor a box of silk flowers and all of my seashells. Because I didn't need them anymore. I really did not.

In the process of moving, I had two garage sales, sold furniture and one set of china on Craigslist, gave a lot away and THREW a lot away. It made me think: I have issues with stuff. I like to hold onto things, because I think they will keep me safe and one day-- happy. However, it is all just a bunch of weight I had to deal with when moving on to greener pastures. I was reminded of an educational video my former science teacher colleague shared with her students, which raised a lot of eyebrows in provincial Montana: The Story of Stuff. The video looks at the fact we throw away approximately 99% of what we own. To me, that is a disgusting statistic. People should be happy with living, wandering, cooking, drinking wine, riding bikes, reading books, and snuggling with their kitty cats. But that is not the way life is here in America. My recent move and life change has put me in a position, where I need to be able to live without stuff and survive off of 1/3 of my salary. I can do it.

Another link worth examining is a movie, entitled: Waste Land. It's food for thought to consider where we derive the need to have. And buy. And then throw away.

Perhaps it is worth it to think about what makes you happy, before committing to keeping THINGS. Because, in the end, it is all just... stuff.

Happy packing, friends.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Gluten Free Goodness: Apple Plum Cornmeal Tarts


Baby, it's cold outside! Having recently moved to the tiny town of West Yellowstone, MT, I have had to adjust to temps approximately 10 degrees colder than those of my former home in Missoula, MT.  In addition, having retired from my position as an English teacher of 13 years, I have had quite a bit more time on my hands! The answer to cold weather and free hands is: baking. Unfortunately, I am gluten-free, which makes baking sometimes a disappointment, however, the apples and plums of fall never disappoint.

I chose this recipe from Food and Wine magazine, which has served to both fill my gullet with delicious wines and tempt me with fabulous dinner ideas. I needed to create a dessert to go along with my pulled pork, Cajun-spiced grilled potato, and roasted brussels sprouts dinner. I needed something sweet and tart, something to offset all of the spice in the aforementioned menu. The apple-plum cornmeal tart was the perfect answer! With a nice dollop of vanilla ice cream, the dessert was a lovely finish to an equally delectable meal.

Here is the recipe with my gluten-free and health-wise changes:

Dough:
One package Bob's Redmill Gluten Free Pie Crust
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
14 Tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cubed
1/2 cup ice water

Filling:
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/3 cup plus 2 Tbsp. brown sugar, plus more for sprinkling
4 Granny Smith apples, cored and quartered, then cut into 20 pieces each
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
4 red plums
2 tbsp. gluten free all-purpose baking flour (I used Bob's Redmill)
Vanilla ice cream for serving.

1.) Make the dough: using a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, salt, butter and ice water until everything sticks together nicely. (You may have to add more water to create consistent dough.) Scrape dough out of food processor and gather into two halves. Flatten into disks and separately wrap in plastic wrap, then refrigerate for at least one hour.
2.) Make the filling: In a large saucepan, melt the butter, then add 1/3 cup brown sugar (the recipe called for white, but I found the brown created a better flavor. I also added spices to the recipe to again, add more flavor.), cooking on medium high heat for one minute. Add the apples and lemon juice. Cook on high for 11 minutes, stirring occasionally, until apples begin to caramelize. Transfer to another bowl to cool, then add the plums, cinnamon and nutmeg.
3.) Remove dough from refrigerator. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. (I am at an elevation of 6,000 feet, so I lowered the heat to 350 halfway through.) Separate the dough into six rounds, flattening each and either putting into mini-tart pans or onto parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Add filling to center of each, leaving 1 1/2 inches border to fold inwards. Sprinkle with brown sugar and dust edges with cornmeal.
4.) Bake for about 35 minutes, or until crust is golden-brown. Let cool on a wire rack for ten minutes before eating. Enjoy with a dollop of vanilla ice cream!


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Mythology

People ask me what my book is about. I tell them, "World War II," and they immediately look shocked; why would some blonde chick be writing about a subject requiring research, a topic way older than she? And then there is the fact everyone has written about, filmed, painted, danced to WWII. That's not why I am interested in the topic.

Everywhere I have gone since the beginning of the book, I find someone, who is interested in the story of the Jews. It may go back to a theology class or a friend or someone who fought in the war, etc., but regardless of the connection, people care about social justice. I care about social justice. It is what kept me teaching and what frustrated me the most in my teaching. 

In Greek mythology, Roman, Native American-- really any ethnic tradition-- there is a hero. In stories, the hero faces a monster. I say "he", because that is the id most recognized in literature. The male resounds and sounds his horn and people remember it. The hero must answer to a "call", find friends along the way to help him, go through many challenges and fight a "monster" before he can go back to his people and share his ordeal. Sometimes, the hero is a blatant narcissist-- ahem, Odysseus-- and is swept away by beautiful sirens, who seduce him and hope to kill him. (It's really great how women are represented in prominent literature, is it not?) In my novel, I am interested in the hero within the average human: either the man who leads the Resistance in the South of France or the woman who survives a terrible heartbreak. These stories I read in high school and taught as a teacher are not only the foundation for my culture, but for what I want to do with my life. 

And so I am grateful, for every person who has contributed to this journey. I would like to include the man I met yesterday, who was in seminary and had read Bonhoeffer and mythology and Hebrew and cared enough to discuss it with me, the elderly Italian man at the train station in Lucca who told me about the atrocities nearby, and the students, whose hope for a better world keep me going.

Carpe. Diem.

Quit Your Day Job

This summer, I sent an email to my employer informing him of my decision to move on to "greener pastures", aka: write my novel and throw caution to the wind after 12 years of teaching. Big sigh. I have never slept better. I am not really sure how I end up sleeping so late, but I feel so much healthier. But it's scary. I may never publish this book, but I can try.

I moved to a small town in south-central Montana called West Yellowstone. It is nestled next to Yellowstone National Park and surrounded by all things wild. My boyfriend has been living there for four months now, and "our" cat, Carlos, has been there since the past weekend. I had to come back to Missoula, my hometown, to prepare for a First Friday show and to wrap up my rental here, and I just miss my little nest down there quite a bit.

While saying goodbye to this town, I feel my eyes have opened to really how beautiful it is. I have done some last minute walks around the neighborhood, walking through the alleys, examining everyone's beautiful fences, gardens and watching the sunset sky rest its brilliant fuchsia face against a landscape of MOUNTAINS. I have lived here for 35 of my 38 years, and now I have packed up/given away/thrown away nearly all of my belongings to live in a tiny cabin in a land of snow. And I have never been more thrilled. Or scared.

I have been working since the age of 10. First, I babysat. Then, I did lawn work for the elderly in the neighborhood. After that, there was a myriad of random occupations, most including some kind of interaction with children, and then finally: teaching. I started teaching in 2001 on a tiny island in the Atlantic Ocean: Nantucket, Massachusetts. After that job, I got my master's degree, started teaching in Missoula, and it has just been year after year of work. So to go from all work to none is quite a shock! I have been painting--another random gig-- and selling some work in town. That project has taken up all the time I have had alone here in Missoula, that and enjoying some yoga, running at noon, and other pleasures I haven't been able to do since I began a "career'.

Now, I am embarking on a self-made career of writing-- and perhaps, painting-- which will require me to be a personal drill sergeant as to to wake-up times, schedules, publishing attempts and all that is involved with crafting a large piece of written work. I am very excited to adventure down this path. I only hope I will succeed.

Cheers.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Unthinkable.

This past summer, I took a trip to perform research for a book I have been working on for the past two years. As a high school English teacher, I consider honing the crafts I want my students to own to be one of my foremost responsibilities. Thing is, as a teacher, I have never had time to do that. My days would be about encouraging, shaping, teaching and leading young people, and my nights would be about recovering from work, reshaping my personal focus, spending time with my boyfriend and friends and working on my fitness. I didn't have time to write. Even if I did have time, I was too mentally exhausted to write.

So I quit my job. After visiting Poland, Italy and France, and experiencing one of the best, most fun, most life-changing trips of my lifetime, I decided I needed to commit to the task of writing this novel. World War II and the Holocaust have always been of interest for me to study, I can speak other languages easily and love meeting people from around the world, and I needed a change. The past year at work, I was desperately unhappy. Frequent change with our administrators, death of friends and students, my boyfriend moving away... All of these things added up to one giant pile of unhappy. My wine supply dissipated faster than I'd like to admit. I gave up on exercise. My cat became my best buddy. Yep, time for a change...

The thing with quitting something like teaching, and in a school where I worked, with the students I worked with, is there is a great risk of feeling useless. Every day, I went to work knowing that regardless of what I was teaching, I was there to support WHOM I was teaching; my students inspired me and I can only hope I slightly inspired them. But one has to follow her dreams. Before I set out to teach, I was a writer. I was a poet, specifically, but I dabbled in fiction and had professors scowl when I told them I was getting my teacher's certification. At the time, nearly 20 years ago, I thought writing for a career was "selfish", and I needed to something to "give back". Well, I have been working with children since I was 10. I am 38 now, so that is nearly 3/4 of my life devoted to "selfless giving-back". Now, I am taking a great risk and working on something I truly believe in. I'm prepared to be up all night. I'm prepared to go for 10-mile runs to avoid my laptop. I'm prepared to move into a cabin with my boyfriend. But I'm not prepared to lose all the relationships I have made with those students and faculty, who kept ME going for the last 10 years in Missoula.

And so, I will carry on and I hope you will carry on, too, kiddos. Keep that torch burning. The one in your awesome brains.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Lucca

Benvenito a Lucca, the sweetest little Italian town, where people ride bikes and enjoy pizza in the piazza. Chianti country. Bikes everywhere. Serious rain showers. And the best grocery I have ever visited. My host looks like an Italian movie star, my apartment is nice and perfetto, and the trains are within walking distance. Today, I am going to Pisa, to visit the terme, or hot springs, as they are good for my body! I had delicious pizza in the piazza citadella last night, while watching Italia play Uruguay in the World Cup. Bene!





Monday, June 23, 2014

La cucina

Ok. Venice is wicked expensive. But, going to the local grocery and public market at Rialto was worth it, and relatively affordable. I did get yelled at by some mask wearing people who require payment for photo taking... I did not have 2 euros, only 60 cents... Got yelled at.

Tonight, I am making fried zucchini with us dried tomatoes. For antipasti I had salami and olives, with a little provolone. Delicious. And excellent local cab sauv.  Plus local chocolate... I only eat lunch to seems. Or one meal a day. It is quite nice! And you can walk around with your wine at night. Rad.